Is now really the best time to surprise the band with a special guest?
Five minutes before they were due to go on-stage, to biggest gig of their lives, lead singer Dana Park had sprung the news on the rest of the band. Audrey hadn’t appreciated it at the time and spent most of the gig stewing over it. She was the lead guitarist, dammit, and she didn’t need some Brit coming on for an encore to steal their thunder, no matter how popular his hit currently was. It was their first gig outside the US, at Shepard’s Bush Empire, a venue they’d always wanted to play. They wanted to make an impression for themselves, not some guy Dana knew from high-school.
I do not need any favours.
They ended the main part of the show with a crowd-pleasing cover of Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working”, then ran off stage and let the crowd work themselves up to demanding an encore.
Dana ran back out onto the stage and brought the band back on in turn;
“On the drums – Amy West… On bass, groovy Jennifer Fisher…” she laughed as Jenn reappeared flipping the bird at Dana. “On guitar… Audrey McKeen!”
The crowd dutifully cheered.
“My name is Dana Park, we’re having such a great time tonight, we want to bring out a special guest for you.”
A more genuine cheer followed.
“He’s a great friend of ours, I’ve known him forever… Tom Nolan on the electric guitar!”
Tom strode out from the opposite side of the stage to Audrey, gave Dana a friendly hug, and waved to the crowd. He then gestured in acknowledgement of the band, and made a bow to them.
Son of a bitch. We don’t need the crowd whipping up for us – where were you for the last hour and a half?
Dana continued unaware of Audrey seething; “Tom wants us to do this thing called Love Ain’t A Love Song… We’ve never done this together, so it’ll either be great or a complete disaster…”.
From behind them they heard the click of drum sticks and Amy’s voice shouting “One, two” though “three” and “four” were overwhelmed by the fill she pounded out irrespective of the readiness of the group. That was standard for Amy – her attitude was that if you wanted to be in this band, you showed up to play. In her most polite moments, the rest was “bullshit”.
This is why drummers don’t get microphones.
Her thoughts returned to their guest. Dana had told them where Tom was going to fit in – playing rhythm and trading solos with Audrey. She would still play her riffs and fills through the verse and variations on the rhythm chords. She remained grumpy about the whole endeavour but this had placated her somewhat. For the end of the song, they’d just jam and call it on the fly.
What could possibly go wrong?
She had sized Tom up immediately. He wore a t-shirt bearing the cover art from “Dark Side of the Moon”, his hair was so short to be lacking anything that could be called a style, and his chin was covered in stubble. He had a face that was not unattractive, but wasn’t particularly memorable either. His body had more to recommend it – Tom was slim and had muscular arms. Audrey caught herself dwelling on them longer than she expected.
Who cares about his arms? He’s probably completely in love with himself. He’s a guitar player with a hit song and a cute British accent, I’m sure he has women falling all over him…
As the second chorus ended Dana turned to Tom and shouted for him to play the first solo. Audrey’s face returned to a scowl as the crowd cheered his first notes – though begrudgingly she had to admit that he had talent. He didn’t fall into the trap of trying to play too many notes too quickly, instead finding unexpected variations on common blues riffs.
As he finished his solo he turned from the audience towards the rest of the band and caught Audrey’s eye for a moment, shooting her a quick grin.
Keep smiling motherfucker, listen to this…
She prided herself on not relying on flashy “tricks” to impress an audience, to impress anyone for that matter, but there was a time and place for such things, and it was now. She began with some Van Halen style tapping, before playing a screaming, bended note which she held close to her amplifier in order to use the feedback to sustain it longer than naturally possible. She glanced across the stage as the note continued to ring out, to see Tom gleefully laughing.
Okay, so he has a cute smile, you can admit that and still be a feminist.
She crossed behind Dana to play directly at Tom. She had done it subconsciously but she didn’t mind the feeling that it asserted her dominance within the pairing. Tom continued to smile charmingly back at her.
Is he smiling at the music or me?
Audrey’s solo transitioned back into Dana’s voice screaming the chorus, and she looked across at the rest of the band, who seemed to be enjoying themselves more than normal. Having a guest had lifted some of the pressure of the occasion from them and they could now take stock of where they were and how good a night they were having. Audrey smiled too, relaxing for the first time in the evening.
It must be the music.
Dana came to the end of the chorus and called on Audrey again. Audrey signalled the band to go quiet and played a sparse solo for eight bars which Tom followed, mimicking the style. Dana gave them a “keep it going” signal and Audrey locked eyes with Tom to command his attention.
Alright hot-shot, let’s try this…
She played a phrase which was open-ended enough that Tom could catch her drift, and widened her eyes as she ended it to indicate his turn. Fortunately he responded with a complementary riff, and they repeated the call-and-response pattern for the rest of the eight bar section. Dana interjected an ecstatic “whoo” as the band grew louder again to accompany another eight bars of Audrey alone, for which she took centre stage.
This is where I belong.
Toward the end of her solo Tom appeared beside her and leaned up against Audrey so they were playing back-to-back.
This feels right – we need to play together more.
As his eight bars ended, the two of them simultaneously turned to face each other and locked eyes again, Audrey suddenly sporting a cheeky grin and Tom a wide-eyed smile.
Please be thinking what I’m thinking.
They began playing in unison, Audrey connected with Tom on a level that felt close to psychic. They could sense the other’s note choice before it happened and weave their parts around and alongside each other’s on the fly. That kind of symbiosis usually took years to develop, but they had it instantly. With a nod of the head or raise of an eyebrow they let each other know what they were intending on playing next. The two of them played with only a vague sense of the rest of the band around them, and absolutely no conception of the audience. They were simply playing together – no longer trying to one-up the other, but exploring their chemistry and perfectly complementing each other.
This isn’t just music. It doesn’t just happen. This means something.
The song ended with a classic “big rock ending”, taking the whole venue from an ecstatic climax, to silence from the band and deafening cheering from the audience. Tom mouthed an exhilarated “oh my god” before turning to accept the adulation of the crowd and walk off stage.
Audrey took her guitar off and flung it through the air to the off-stage area where her guitar tech may or may not have been waiting to catch the now-airborne axe. It didn’t seem terribly important to her in the moment, she had to catch Tom before he ran off backstage.
Well, if I’ve dinged it, it’ll make a great clip for YouTube…
She dashed across the stage, and caught up with Tom as he handed off his guitar to his assistant. She grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around, the sound of the audience still ringing in their ears, and looked at him smiling back at her, still on a high.
She grinned mischievously, put a hand on each side of his face and kissed him forcefully. She was surprised to find him immediately respond by wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close in to him.
She pulled away and mouthed to him; “Stay right here.”
Tom looked shell-shocked and smitten, but nodded “okay” back to her. Audrey grinned like a schoolgirl, and returned to the stage…